We tend to value people for what they can do, rather than simply for being creatures made in the image of God. When someone can’t do as much (whether due to the decline of old age, birth defects, or disease) we tend to adjust our view of his worth according to what he can (still) do. In the process, we dishonor not only the person, but God as well. Put positively, when we honor our father and mother, we bring honor to our God. What a precious opportunity!
Some time back I saw this post about an elderly woman, Elaine Curriden Bayly, who had just died at the age of 92 after being taken care of in the home of her nephew and niece Tim and Mary Lee Bayly for six years and four months. The comments on that post really made an impression on me regarding these things.
Here is a sampling of some of those comments (emphases mine):
I always noticed how Mary Lee painted Aunt Elaine’s fingernails or tied a pretty colored scarf around her neck that brought out the color of her beautiful eyes. She also placed that wig on her head every day. I think I only saw Aunt Elaine without the wig once and I consider myself family over there to open the door and walk into the Bayly home without knocking. To drive up and see the little Christmas tree in her window twinkling its lights also was noticed. Tim joked and loved on Aunt Elaine like he does everyone else, but in a more special way since she was his Dad’s sister.
Thank you both for displaying how to show dignity to this one made in the image of God in this most humiliating and distasteful phase of life. We love you guys with a big love. Things like this (and many more) gave us much confidence to leave you with our first-born as we came back to Zambia.
We will dearly miss Aunt Elain. She was a real blessing. Thank you for sharing her and taking such good care of her!!
When I visit the elderly in hospitals or nursing homes, I so often hear them say they don’t want to be a burden. Instead of telling them, “Oh no, you are no burden” I tell them, of course you are a burden, but it is the burden of love (something I learned from a Gilbert Meilaender article in First Things years ago). That’s what all family is to each other, a burden in some way, when rightly understood. Babies and children are a burden, teenagers are a burden, elderly are a burden, (let’s face it, I’m a burden to my wife) but that is what it means to be family. The Holy Spirit’s gift to us is the very desire to bear one another’s burdens and then the blessing we receive when we do.
These years have been years to learn for all involved. Aunt Elaine learned she could trust you to care for her in every way, and you learned that you could fit just one more thing in each day. Your children, oh your children, they have been so blessed by this time, and not because it was always sweet or easy, but because they learned to give from the strength and love that God gives, and not of their own beautiful, yet limited, abilities.
There’s just too much to be learned about life in having the elderly in your home and seeing them through their final days. Your children are so much richer for it — I see it in their lives.
Wow. A lot to think about, here. I recommend reading the post and all its comments.